Almost all of us have some leadership role to play today. Knowledge workers are generally responsible for their own performance and for supporting their teammates. At TeamFit, any team member can take on a leadership role, depending on the task at hand, and the founders of the company may find themselves reporting to an intern on a project that the intern is responsible for. This takes a lot of maturity and discipline from all involved. Fortunately, millennials seem to be generally very good at taking on this kind of leadership.

Recently, TeamFit has been working with companies in the consulting engineering industry. We are getting coached by Brian Conlin, former CEO of Golder Asscociates, who has a CEO Roundtable for employee-owned forms in this industry. One of the things we have been asking the CEOs of these companies is about the skills and attitudes that they bring to their own leadership. All this is in preparation for a major survey of CEO leadership skills in the professional services industry that we will launch in January 2017. A snippet of the skill graph from this survey is shown below. (To simplify the graph, various forms of technical, business and domain knowledge have been grouped under ‘knowledge’).

It has been fascinating to see the different leadership skill profiles. In some respects, these leadership profiles are more differentiated than the companies themselves. Some of the people spoke in terms of trust and reliability. Others led with their business and communication skills. A few people put more weight on their technical and analytical skills. All of these are successful people leading excellent companies, and each approach to leadership seems to work well. Looking at this, admittedly thin, data set though makes me think something is missing, something about vision. The above mentioned skills seem more like manager skills rather than leader skills.

MIT’s Sloan Business School has done some important work in identifying the leadership styles that will work best in distributed, rapidly changing, knowledge companies (which is a good description of many professional services companies). The MIT model calls out four core capabilities that leaders will need going forward. These may be a good touchstone for the leadership skills of the future.

Sensemaking: Leaders help make sense of a complex and changing world. Most people have trouble making decisions, or even focussing on their work, in the face of ambiguity and uncertainty. Leaders help people understand and make sense of the world they are working in.

Relating: “Development of key relationships within and across the organization in the words of Deborah Ancona, one of the main authors of the MIT model. Building these relationships is one of the key jobs of any leader.

Visioning: “Creating a compelling vision of the future. While sensemaking creates a map of what is, visioning is a map of what could be. Visions are important because they provide the motivation for people to give up their current views and ways of working to change. Perhaps most importantly visions provide people with a sense of meaning about their work.” Deborah Ancona again. Visioning is important at all levels of the organization; it is part of project management and customer relationships, and it guides work in design thinking and innovation.

Inventing: Creating new ways of working together. In this case ‘together’ includes not just employees, but customers, partners, the larger community and even competitors. Inventing can include everything from new ownership and compensation models, to business models and public-private partnerships, to open sourced design and community investments.

One of the most important things that the people in the CEO survey have called out is accountability. Leaders are accountable. Anyone who does not want to be accountable cannot be a leader. Given the importance of leadership at all levels of the organization, accountability is going to be a major theme for organizations going forward.

What skills do people need in order to hold themselves and each other accountable?
How does the organization need to be designed to support accountability?

Given the importance of localized leadership at all levels of the organization, going forward supporting and encouraging accountability is likely to be a key theme for leaders in 2017.